Your career doesn’t have to be moving up to mean it’s growing and progressing. Here’s why.

Career progression and success in the past has often been thought of in terms of gaining a promotion or title that signifies another rung on the career ladder has been climbed. But the work world is changing, and gradual, linear gains to the ‘top’ aren’t the reality anymore. Organizations need leaders who have a wider range of experience that the traditional career pathway doesn’t often afford. 

In my book, The Inequality Equalizer, and throughout my years of experience, I’ve advised professionals to take those ‘sideways’ and ‘diagonal’ opportunities too, gathering what unique skills and experiences they can because those non-linear positions can often lead you to the next best step for your career. 

A recent blog post from Korn Ferry addresses this strategy, referring to it as the career lattice, a term that clearly illustrates the idea of advancing a career through all sorts of directions. The blog post says, “Companies have delayered and the world has become more complex and diverse. Organizations now need leaders with a breadth of experience that can’t be found traveling up the rungs of a narrow career ladder. And they need them to acquire these skills quickly.” The blog post also says that just because progress isn’t in a direct line doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be planned. The post calls for Companies to optimise their development and education programs and to provide support for creating strategic career moves that prepare leaders for future roles while also boosting their chances of success.

There are a lot of factors at play when it comes to this change in the world of work. Technology and globalized business have changed where and how work is done, and that will continue to change as technology advances. A leader’s skills and experience need to reflect this diversity, and it’s becoming harder and harder to find that diversity on just one single career ladder. 

An article from The Atlantic discusses this shift in the work world, describing it as a focus on skillful transitions and transferable skills. The article says it’s all about “skill sets that prove to be relevant across a variety of job sectors—team management and customer service, for instance—create opportunities for people to be hired but also open new avenues for advancement within that company.” The article contains an interview with Lauren Laitin, Founder and Principal of Parachute Coaching, a career and leadership coaching firm that specializes in preparing job candidates who are facing significant career switches. According to the article, Laitin says the key is helping workers see the connections in their own lives and the episodes that link all kinds of experiences that also highlight transferable skills. An excerpt from the article says, “‘Develop a clear, honest story about why this transition makes sense.’ She says employers want to know two things: ‘That you’ll be able to do the job and that you are going to love it. The more your story can answer those questions, the less concerned an employer will be in saying yes, even if the transition is unconventional.’”

Even before the pandemic, nonlinear career paths were gaining traction. A 2019 article from Forbes highlighted three ways that people can make their nonlinear career paths move in their favor. The article says, “Many of us were led to believe that to be successful our careers should follow a logical and predictable path. Our well-meaning parents, teachers and advisors strongly encouraged us to pick a lane, earn a practical degree (or maybe two), and get a job. From there, we should work hard and over the years, advance up the ranks at that company.” The article then asks the question, what do you do when you find yourself wanting to deviate from that formula? The article advises readers to lose the guilt and shame from stepping off the ladder, think of a career in terms of seasons, and find the common threads that you can weave together to make your unique career story. The article writer, Amy Blaschka, says, “Some of the most interesting and successful people I know have found a way to make their varied experience work for them. Instead of talking about their journey as jumping from gig to gig, they find the common thread that connects the dots of their career—and quickly becomes their point of differentiation.” 

Look for the dots to connect in your experience, assess the skills that you have, and don’t be afraid to jump off that ladder. 


You better Handle Your Social Media Reputation with Care

In today’s world, it’s almost impossible not to be involved with social media. It has become a huge part of daily communication and a main source for news. It has amplified the importance of building and protecting your reputation. When it comes to your reputation on these platforms, posting the wrong photo, quote, or phrase can easily damage the character and impressions you’ve worked to build. The question to keep in mind before you post something is, “How will this post affect my career?”

One insensitive tweet, a thoughtless Facebook post, an inappropriate Instagram photo, an offhand comment on LinkedIn, can cause some damage. Anything can be misconstrued, taken out of context, or over-hyped. All of your accomplishments, all of your successes, every performance measure you’ve met or blown out of the water, all of that speaks to your professional reputation. Don’t destroy what you’ve been working so hard to build up. 

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Getting a handle on your work-life balance

Work-life balance is one of the most talked about topics, but even with all the chatter, working professionals still struggle with implementing balance to their life and career. It’s not always easy. I know having that healthy work-life balance can be a hard task to keep up with, especially when you ‘re managing a thriving career while staying on the top of your competition.

When you have a healthy work-life balance in place it won’t seem impossible to maximize your career success because you’ll know what matters to you. You’ll know what success looks like. You’re not going to constantly struggle to attain an abstract vision of success, meaning that you won’t be defined by someone else’s vision of success.

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Are you a Junkyard Dog or a Pedigree?

A lot of workers today are junkyard dogs. They are scrappy, tenacious professionals who have had to work hard for everything they’ve got, often putting themselves through college (typically a state university), studying the behavior of those around them, and delivering results through hard work and common sense. I consider myself a junkyard dog. My family was working class, and we survived paycheck to paycheck with dignity and humility. I worked from the time I was 15, paying for all my clothes, my car, and all the expenses that came with furthering my education.  

On the other end of the spectrum, there are the pedigrees. These workers are well-educated Ivy Leagues who have lived lives of advantage, complete with the gold-plated networking circles that have helped them skip the lower ladder in order to land in positions of power and influence. This kind of advantage can create an inequality that exists in many corporate settings. One isn’t necessarily better than the other, but career-long success does depend on balancing your junkyard dog with your pedigree.  

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